What Do a Hockey Player, Nurse and a Pianist All Have in Common?

Back pain. Two four letter words. I can't remember a time when I told people that I'm an Alexander Technique teacher (and subsequently explained what I do) that it wasn't followed with, "Oh, my back has been bothering me lately!"

Repeatedly hearing that is disheartening because what it means is more and more people are succumbing to living with back pain. And they've tried everything from yoga, to massage, to chiropractic...to surgery.

What really irks me though, is when I hear young people tell me that. When I say 'young', I'm talking teenagers. I'm talking 20 year olds. I'm talking people in their 50s. That's still young.

Through my years of teaching students of different ages, sizes, vocations and life experiences, I have learned that the one thing many of them share is anecdotes about living with chronic back pain. Here is a closer look at some professions that take a heavy toll on the body:

The Hockey Player:

Hockey players are some of the highest paid athletes in the world, yet with that high pay can come a lot of high pain. Their occupation necessitates quick rotation, sprinting, cutting, precision, stamina and strength.

The skills taught to play hockey rarely also teach hockey players how to think beyond the race or game. Instead the focus is on winning, not on the long-term effects or detriments.

The habits accumulated throughout the career of a hockey player include, but are not limited to tightening, straining, and pushing beyond healthy limits.

The result is injury in the form of shoulder separation, torn knee ligaments, sprains, broken bones, etc, often leading up to surgery and chronic body pain. These athletes are then taught to do it all over again. For example, take the captain of the one of the world's leading hockey teams. In April of 2016, the captain was out 'indefinitely' due to having a rib removed in blood clot surgery and then again later that year for knee surgery. As the latter article states:

"...missed all but one of Tampa Bay's postseason games last spring with a blood clot issue. But after signing an eight-year contract extension that pays him $8.5 million annually to remain with the Lightning, he returned in full health and played for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey. "

It's shocking to process those words. Forget his blood clot issue. Forget the knee surgery. Because after he signed a contract that pays him $8.5 million a year, he miraculously returned in 'full health' to play for the World Cup.

I don't claim to know much about sports but I do understand about use of the body. I can't begin to grasp how this abuse of a human body--for any price-- is humane. Nor can I imagine the quality of life of any athlete who endures so many surgeries at such a young age. But I digress...

What other occupation takes a heavy toll on the body?

The Nurse:

Nurses are among the health care professionals with the highest incidence rates of work related lower back problems and pain. Their occupation demands long shifts, short breaks, high stress and workload, coupled with a tense and fast-paced atmosphere.

Furthermore, nurses aren't taught how to prevent lower back pain. The few skills that have been taught to prevent back pain expose their spines to dangerous forces.

Occupational habits include: bending forward for long periods of time, over-loading and straining the body while moving patients, lifting in a way that adds further strain to the body, standing for long periods of time.

Nurses also push themselves. With a taxing workload and minimal breaks, is it any wonder why musculoskeletal disorders are the most common occupational injury among these health care professionals?

Nurses are vital to patient care and well-being, yet their occupational hazards and lack of resources for self-care lead to an array of musculoskeletal problems. Nurses not only carry the onus of their own undesired habits, they also carry those of their patients. And in spite of all they do, many nurses continue to feel underpaid, overworked and undervalued.

Sometimes the well-being of the self is neglected in pursuit of pleasing the other--whether that 'other' is a partner, family, job, or the crowd.

The Pianist

I took piano lessons for 7 years as a child. I can personally attest to the immense discipline and commitment that is demanded of pianists. As the audience enjoys Mozart's Piano Sonata No 11, they don't always think about the hours of practice (and often pain) that went into playing.

In addition to back pain and posture issues, pianists are prone to tendonitis, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and dystonia.

However, unlike athletes and medical professionals, pianists are becoming increasingly familiar with career saving techniques--such as the Alexander Technique, that maintain and enhance the longevity and vitality of this vocation.

The Alexander Technique is not an enigma to most performers. In fact, most of my students who are either actors, singers, dancers or musicians, have heard of the Alexander Technique prior to contacting me for lessons. This is great news for performers, but what about everybody else that also depends on their body for their livelihood and health?

As a society, we have made it permissible and acceptable to set such low standards for body care--not only at work, but in every aspect of our lives. Our bodies are meant to move freely and without pain, yet we continue to burden our selves with unnecessary constraints and demands--far beyond what is reasonable. Instead, we call it 'entertainment' or 'part of the job description'. But it is inhumane.

Ignoring the severity of occupational related injury of any sort is no different than accepting abuse of the body as a way of life. What is more, succumbing to surgery that could have been preventable-- if there were better resources for self-care and body education-- is simply unacceptable in this day and age.

We all have habits. We have layers and layers of habits. And when we feel back or body pain, it's rarely a single culprit at play. It is the accumulation of lifelong habits, built upon years of habits. It is the result of lack of awareness that is perpetuated by a culture of 'doing' and 'becoming'.

Since we aren't taught how to take care of our bodies in school, it is our responsibility to learn to recognize what our habits are. I invite you to do the research for yourself.

The next time you watch a sport on TV, look at the athletes. How much strain are they under? How much tightening do you see in their shoulders and necks? The next time you see a nurse, pay attention to how he or she is using their body. Are they bending with their knees or rounding their backs instead?

Then, try to pay more attention to yourself. When you are sitting at your desk are you collapsing in your chair and then arching to over-correct? Is standing so uncomfortable that you shift your weight from side to side or lean against a wall? Why might that be? Take some time and think about the things you are asking your body to do every day.

See if you can do a little less. Arch a little less. Think up a little more. And if you start to see a connection, I invite you to explore the Alexander Technique. You can only go up from there.

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